Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To Hardcover – Sep 21 2010
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“Alluring and daunting” -- Wired.com
“Readable explanations for why we choke and valuable suggestions for what we can do to get through a make-or-break moment with a better chance of success.”
--Wall Street Journal
"If you aspire to be cool under maximum pressure (and who doesn't?), Beilock offers smart tips such as practicing under pressure and 'pausing the choke' by walking away from the problem for a few minutes in order to think clearly."
“. . . a must read for golfers.” – WorldGolf
“Choke is an important, fascinating book. Everyone who is looking for optimal performance would benefit from reading it and implementing its principles.”
—Daniel G. Amen, MD, Author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body
“Do you want to hit better shots on the golf course? Score higher on the SAT? Get less nervous before speaking in public? In this marvelous book, Sian Beilock will tell you how, as she reveals the mental secrets to performing under pressure.”
--Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist
“A wonderful exploration of what happens inside when you choke on the outside. Essential for anyone who has, or plans, to compete, and especially for those who have choked.”
--Andrew Newberg, M.D., co-author of How God Changes Your Brain and Born to Believe --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Sian Beilock, a leading expert on cognitive science and the many factors influencing all types of performance, is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. She received a BS in Cognitive Science from the University of California, San Diego in 1997 and PhDs in both kinesiology and psychology from Michigan State University in 2003.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
I also think the chapters in the book on procedurally-based tasks will be applicable to our nursing students who freeze during their early clinical experiences and our music students, during recitals: inserting an IV line properly or performing on stage is more like making a putt than like answering a question on a test.
The beauty of the book is that it not overly-technical, and so is completely accessible to lay people as well as professionals. I'll be recommending it to students.
It has great research and I could understand the sports analogies but I had a difficult time finding a solution to my problem which is why I purchased the book.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As a performing musician who, after many years, still would like to improve his consistency and quality of performance, I started this book expecting specific advice about how to deal with choking, i.e. how to counteract the tendency toward freaking out and not doing one's best when it most counts. Beilock does make a useful distinction early on between so-called "working memory," which seems to be conscious intellectual thought and analysis, and "thinking outside the box," which seems to be what most of us might call instinct or gut reaction. The upshot of her thesis boils down to this: under pressure people who rely heavily on working memory get into trouble because too much conscious thought can actually inhibit and disrupt performance rather than enhance it. While certainly true this is not exactly a new idea, and rather than develop it Beilock goes off for much of the book on tangents about high-stakes academic testing and self-reinforcing stereotypes, material that is certainly provocative and important but that seems less than central to the main topic. There is some sound advice about preparing by putting oneself in pressure situations in advance of the "main event," and of dealing with performance anxiety by writing about it and facing it head-on rather than denying or ignoring it. I also like the little checklists that summarize the main points of several chapters. Still, with regard to minimizing the chances of "choking" and improving one's overall performance in pressure situations, other books have covered the main topic as well or better, especially as applied to specific areas of endeavor such as musical or athletic performance.
It's the day of the big test, and even though you've aced every practice test, you can't even get through the first few problems on the actual test. Or, you've mastered your speech, and could practically recite it in your sleep, and then on the day of your performance, you freeze. Or, you've been flawlessly making every putt on the greens during practice, but when the pressure's on during the game, you can't putt to save your life.
We're all too familiar with the ways the brain can choke. Fortunately, Sian's book _Choke_ provides us with insight into why our brains can get derailed, and also offers techniques for getting things back on track. In essence, there are two ways the brain can choke. The first happens when worries and anxieties interfere with the brain's horsepower needed for complex-thinking and reasoning tasks. The second happens when we over-focus too much on a performance, disrupting the natural flow of what normally happens outside of our conscious awareness. _Choke_ addressees both types of brain bonks, and shows what we can do about each.
The book is packed with plenty of food for thought to help nourish the brain and prevent choking. To whet your cognitive appetite, here's just a sample:
The curse of expertise:
*As we get better at performing a skill, our conscious memory for how we do it gets worse and worse. (p. 16)
*Practice can actually change the physical wiring of the brain to support exceptional performance. (p. 43)
*Athletes' tendency to overthink their performance is one big predictor of whether they will choke in important games or matches. (p. 60)
Less can be more--Why flexing your prefrontal cortex is not always beneficial:
*Adults are better at acquiring a new language--that is, adults look more like kids with underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes--when they are distracted and not concentrating too hard on what they are learning. (p. 77)
*Having a golfer count backwards by threes, or even having a golfer sing a song to himself, uses up working-memory that might otherwise fuel overthinking or a flubbed performance. (p. 78)
Brain differences between the sexes--A self-fulfilling prophecy?:
*Just being stereotyped negatively is enough to drive down performance. (p. 103)
*Stereotype threat is most dramatic for those girls who are the most skilled and most interested in excelling at what they are being tested on. (p. 103)
Bombing the test--Why we choke under pressure in the classroom:
*Practicing under the types of pressures you will face on the big testing day is one of the best ways to prevent choking. (p. 147)
The choking cure:
*Writing about your worries before a test or presentation prevents choking. (p. 159)
*Putting your feelings into words changes how the brain deals with stressful information. (p. 161)
Choking under pressure--From the green to the stage:
*Heightened attention to detail can actually mess you up. (p. 190)
*Paralysis by analysis occurs when you attend too much to activities that normally operate outside of conscious awareness. (p. 192)
Fixing the cracks in sport and other fields--Anti-choking techniques:
*Training in stressful situations minimizes the possibility of the choke as you gradually become accustomed to the pressure. (p. 213)
*Focusing on what to do (a strategy focus) rather than how to do it (a technique focus) can help prevent cracking under stress. (p. 222)
So, whether you want a test score that reflects your true abilities, you want to be able to speak eloquently (or at least flub-lessly) in front of an audience, you want to be able to make that putt when it really counts, or you just want to figure out how to get your brain on your side, getting your hands on a copy of _Choke_ should be a no-brainer.
I had one very frustrating issue with it though. Nowhere in the promotional material for this book is there any indication that it will be about scientific research that disproves the biological explanation for the differences between Men and Women in the Math and Science fields. Yet, for some reason, a full quarter, verging on a third of text is devoted to this topic.
It's a strange experience to read this. The author establishes a thread about the neurological basis of choking, and then goes on a nearly 100 page tangent. While this is certainly an interesting, significant, and necessary topic, it doesn't fit in well with the rest of the book.
It seems as if it would have worked better on its own.
Other than this issue, the book is a great read.
SUMMARY: To start, Beilock defines choking as a response to a perceived stressor that results in suboptimal performance. Essentially, it is when one does not live up to expectations given their talent level and performs worse than they have done in the past. The goal of the book is to explain why, when, and how failure under pressure happens. Much of the answer lies in the differentiation between procedural memory and explicit memory. Procedural memory consists of things that you do outside of conscious awareness and explicit memory is your ability to consciously think and reason on the spot.
Beilock discusses how explicit memory involves working-memory, or the ability to hold information in short-term memory while doing something else at the same time. Working-memory and conscious control are activated in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is used in problem solving and decision making situations. Often when in a stressful situation, the prefrontal cortex malfunctions. It stops communicating with other brain areas needed for cognitive success, causing the choke to begin.
According to Beilock, the problem starts when the pressure is on and one starts to worry. Worrying takes over the area of the prefrontal cortex that is usually occupied by working-memory. So instead of having a working-memory that is focused on a specific task, worrying and distractions capture working-memory and there is less brainpower left to focus on what we are doing. For example, in the school setting, worrying sometimes takes over the prefrontal cortex before a big test like the ACT. Worry about fulfilling expectations and the future uses up the majority of the prefrontal cortex, leaving little room for working-memory to focus on the test. As a result, lack of thinking and decision making skill leads to performance that is not up to par. Therefore, according to the author, standardized tests are not always the best way to analyze intelligence because the depletion of performance is due to choking under pressure, not the lack of skill itself.
Also while under pressure, we can start to think too much about what we are doing. Instead of working-memory not working enough, it starts to take too much control in the prefrontal cortex and causes a mess up. Beilock calls this paralysis by analysis. Paralysis by analysis happens most often during activities that can be done out of unconscious thought and is common in sports and music. For example, while shooting a free throw during the pressure of a tight game, working-memory taking over the prefrontal cortex might cause you to think too much about the angle of your elbow, extension of arm, and overall form of the shot instead of going through a fluid motion. The shot is an act that you have perfected so greatly that you usually do it without even thinking. However, overthinking can cause you to miss the shot. While playing the violin, you might start to think about your technique and the notes instead of just playing. The basal ganglia and motor system, which activate procedural memory and control tasks performed on autopilot, will be suppressed because of over analyzing an act that usually just comes natural. Once again, this causes one to mess up and choke. Therefore, Beilock argues that athletes and musicians perform better outside of the prefrontal cortex and working memory.
There are so many things that cause us to fail under pressure. One of the most common stressors is stereotypes: women can't do math, white men can't jump, or African Americans are less intelligent. The author states that just the mention of a stereotype is enough for people to begin self-doubt, which uses up valuable resources in the brain which could be used to perform the main task. But there is hope! The tendency to choke is reversible and there are tactics to overcome it.
Beilock provides evidence that the most effective way to prevent choking is practicing under pressure. Practicing a speech in front of friends, timing yourself while studying before an exam, or putting with money on the line will simulate the pressures of real situations. Practicing under stress can exercise procedural memory, increase grey matter, and enlarge the size of the corpus callosum for greater coherence between the right and left hemispheres. Overall communication between brain cells will be improved by practice. As to preventing the onset of stress due to stereotypes, one can reaffirm self-worth, gain confidence, and remember that seeing is believing. Beilock exemplifies the Obama Effect, which shows that seeing examples of people defying stereotypes helps you believe that you will not fall into the same stereotype. In the end, the prevention of choking is all about the balance of brain systems and the ability to shut out negative thoughts so that a maximum amount of cognitive influence can be put into the task at hand.
EVALUATION: As a student athlete, I have always wondered why people choke at times of pressure no matter how much they have prepared for the situation. It is interesting that the physiology of the brain can affect our success and failure. It is even more superb that we can do things to help ourselves control our performance more effectively. For me, the most intriguing aspect of the book is the idea that sometimes less thinking is more. It is sometimes better to stop thinking about what I'm doing and simply just do it (Nike!).
Overall, the style of this book is easy to understand and not too complex for the average reader. Main points and quotations are taken out of the text and put in bold to emphasize the importance of certain information. There are even a few diagrams that show what part of the brain is being discussed. Engaging stories of famous and amateur athletes are used to make brain functioning understandable. Beilock uses situations that are relatable as well. She provides techniques that are integral to preventing choking that are applicable to basically everyone. Overall, the book gives confidence and hope to those who consider themselves prone to choking.
Despite all of the good things about Choke, I was slightly disappointed when it got a little repetitive. About half way through the book, Beilock transitioned from discussing the science behind choking and focused more on techniques to help prevent choking. At this point, it was kind of rough to keep reading because I felt like she kept reemphasizing the same points over and over. I actually wish she had written more in detail about the physiology of the brain and how it works when we choke, rather than techniques to help you perform better (although this is very important). In a way, the book left me wanting more science!
REVIEW/SUMMARY: In Choke, Sian Beilock reveals information about how our brain functions when we choke under pressure and what we can do in order to prevent blundering. She gives essential insight on how we can get the best out of ourselves and be successful in any aspect of life.
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